On the heels of the June 2015 Charleston racially motivated massacre, that left 9 dead and one injured, there has been much discussion about the use of historical symbols by government entities. The overarching idea is that the government should not appear to be biased and should represent the interest of the entire community and not certain segments. The Market House in downtown Fayetteville is one of those symbols up for debate.
The Market House is rich in history and southern heritage. According to Barksdale (2015), the original building that sat where the Market House sits now, once served as the State House in which the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789. When that building burned in the Great Fire of 1831, the Market House was erected in its place in 1832 . The site also hosted a Civil War battle in which Confederate Lieutenant General Wade Hampton killed 11 Union soldiers and captured a dozen more.
The unique architecture employs a town hall-market scheme found in England and is the only National Landmark in Cumberland County (National Park Service, 2008). The second floor of the structure was used as the town hall and a general meeting place. On the first floor vendors came to sell meat, produce, and the occasional human.
Yes, I said human. Slaves were auctioned primarily under estate liquidation or to pay a debt. The actual number of slaves sold is ambiguous, but it happened, on the steps surrounding the structure.
Does that make the Market House a slave market? No, certainly not.
The comparison cannot be made between the Market House and places like Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, Virginia where 350,000 humans were sold into slavery. At best, a handful of humans were sold at the Market House. Many Fayetteville residents see one as too many. Those individuals are not calling for the destruction of the Market House, they are merely requesting that it should be removed from the city’s official seal.
In the 1990s the Fayetteville Police Department and Fire Department recognized the potential to offend citizens and began to phase it out of their insignia. Not only because some found the symbol offensive, but because it too narrowly defined Fayetteville and it was time to move past the Market House.
A Flawed Way to Test Public Sentiment
Officials in Fayetteville decided, in July 2015, to conduct an online survey of popular opinion regarding the issue on the city’s website. There were over 900 responses with 90% of the participants stating that they were not offended by the city’s logo.
I am a computer savvy executive member of the Fayetteville Branch NAACP. I have not seen this survey. In a community of roughly 200,000 people, a sampling of .45% of the population is representative of the entire population? I think not.
How do we find a more accurate view of public opinion?
Public participation is essential to provide the city with the most accurate data on which to make their decision. How can the city do better to attain a higher quality of input? Must civic engagement incorporate a social media aspect when trying to find out how people feel?
When talking about gathering public perception, social media has become one of the most heavily utilized methods in which to disseminate and gather information. It should be used as one of the pieces of the puzzle, but not solely relied upon when making a decision that relies upon respect and fairness.
Michelle – Thanks for your post. I would like to hear more about how you see the trade-off between online polling and other ways to understand public opinion.
I think, at least for the Market House symbol discussion, you seem to favor public meetings or focus groups. These provide greater depth, but are likely to attract people who have strong opinions on the issue. A large part of the population, who is affected but the issue is not a top priority, is not likely to attend.
Online polls make it easier for people to express their opinions, so you may get “more” input – but it is “less deep” – rarely do polls give people choices about the reasons behind their views. So how do you see the trade-offs and what city leaders (or community leaders not in city government) should do to seek opinions that reflect the overall community?
As a small note to all readers, I think the “Dialogue and Deliberation Resource Guide” is helpful – http://www.ncdd.org/files/NCDD2010_Resource_Guide.pdf and, per Michelle’s post, page 6 addresses Online Engagement.
Sometimes I think things are done, so that the city can say they did them, without regard to any real attempt to hear public perception. I think meetings would be helpful and I also think the use of social media would be helpful in part. But I am not convinced that it should be left up to the public. I am not from Fayetteville, so as an outsider I can see a rather divided community and this is one of the issues that is divisive but easily fixable. The removal of this symbol and the adoption of a symbol that everyone can get behind might be a unifying factor. The Market House represents Fayetteville’s past, not its present, and certainly not its future. Its time to move on together. Forward together, not one step back.
Michelle – Thanks for your additional thoughts. I’m intrigued by your idea that “I am not convinced that it should be left up to the public.” Just to be clear, it seems you place the Market House being used as a city symbol (in some places – but not by police and fire departments) into a justice or safety/inclusion framework where “majority rule” is not the highest value for decisions. Is that right? But given the results of the poll – and what probably is the belief by a sizable part of the community who wants to keep the symbol, if it were to change, that could contribute to division in another way. What do you think?
Yes that is right John. I know that some folks feel strongly about keeping the symbol, but by and large, I think that people only care because they see the people who oppose it as the PC police (for lack of a better term). The discussions I have had with people who want to keep the symbol trail off into a slippery slope paradigm with the ‘whats next’ argument, if that makes sense. Many don’t see the dissent as valid because it was just a couple of people sold there. Many of those people are the same people that don’t see the Confederate Flag on the South Carolina Statehouse as divisive either. If the seal were changed overnight, without discussion or forum, many of them wouldn’t have noticed or cared. I think a large part of the opposition (certainly not all) see it as a matter of principle. One direct quote was “If we give ‘them’ this, what are ‘they’ going to want next”. Fayetteville is such a huge military town as well, so a symbol that recognizes our partnership with the military would be more representative of Fayetteville’s present and future.
Thanks for elaborating, Michelle.
“If the seal were changed overnight, without discussion or forum, many of them wouldn’t have noticed or cared.”
Using this logic to say those in favor of keeping the symbol sets up what, to me anyway, is a humorous counter argument and essentially negates everything else you’ve said about it in my opinion. Is it not true that those in favor of its removal did not care about it being there before a rush-to-judgment, debate-of-the-day cause to get upset about? If nobody in favor of it really cared about it before, it’s also true that nobody against it really cared either. It’s been a symbol of the city for a LONG, long time and to paraphrase your quote, many of them never noticed or cared.
To be clear, I’m indifferent in my personal opinion on the seal. It doesn’t much impact my ability to help grow and enrich our city. I can certainly recognize that having it on a city seal does not in any way suggest that the city is endorsing slavery. We should all be able to recognize that there is a very real, and very harmful difference in comparing a benign landmark building to a flag steeped in hatred and bigotry.
As for the polling aspect of things, I think the city did a great job of attempting to capture public sentiment via online methods, and as Kevin pointed out on here, it was merely for that purpose. It was not in any way designed to be scientific polling based on representative data samples. We have a very real opportunity to engage our communities rapidly via social media now, and having tools like instant polling at our disposal does many things to help gather information, and more importantly let citizens feel like they actually do have the means to interact with public officials, even if just in small ways. It’s a powerful tool and I’m sorry to hear that you and those around you never were able to engage in it. In a city this large, it is easy for things like that to go unnoticed, regardless of the amount of promotion. I am always startled to hear folks say things like “I didn’t know the Dogwood Festival was last weekend. I never heard a thing about it.” But it just goes to show that the information we take in is more a product of what we choose to ingest, rather than whether there are sources out there feeding it.
We would welcome your involvement in the Public Relations Alliance here in Fayetteville, Michelle. I think it would be a valuable asset for you if you aren’t already involved. And as a totally separate aside, I’m a big fan of your photography work! 🙂
Michelle, you do a fine job of capturing the essence of the debate on the use of the Market House as a seal to represent our fine City of Fayetteville. Very factual and lays out the history of the Market House so others can make their own informed opinions. I would point out that the survey which you reference was in no way expected to be a statistically significant survey that captured a representative sample of the community’s thoughts on the Market House as a City seal. Rather, the Corporate Communications department, while awaiting guidance from City Council, did this as a cursory gauge of public sentiment, both on Facebook and on our community site, http://www.fayettevilleoutfront.com. We shared those polling locations with local media outlets to help publicize our effort to collect input from across the City. The Fayetteville Observer did a poll very similar to ours on Facebook, with results remarkably similar to ours. In the meantime, and after we had conducted our informal polls, City Council directed the City’s Human Resources Commission to find a way to better capture public sentiment on this topic using much more refined and measurable methods, to bring back those recommendations to Council at a later date. They have, at their disposal, a professional to help them properly and more scientifically poll our citizens. Whatever methods they use will be widely publicized across the City so we get an accurate representation of our citizen’s views on this very important topic. Our goal in the end is to do this right, do it accurately, and do it so that whatever recommendation the Commission brings back to City Council for their ultimate decision on this important matter includes a sentiment reflective of all of our Citizens, not just a select few.
None of us over at the NAACP saw any of these surveys. So I would argue that the polling is only hitting a certain demographic and ostracizing others. I am also curious as to why the city’s emblem wasn’t changed in the 90’s when the fire and police emblems were. What was the reasoning for keeping it? Mayor Robertson removed the image from his signature block, so whats the hesitation?
Hello Michelle, I can’t answer for why the emblem was not changed in the 1990’s. That is for the council and mayor and city manager from those previous years and terms to answer. Regarding the surveys – again – it was not a formal polling, it was an informal one, for which we advertised thru the local newspaper, did some stand up interviews with local television media, and advertised on our Facebook page. But that was then, this is now, to use the cliché term. The important thing now, as we move forward, is that the HR Commission is focused on a more collective and inclusive approach. There is no hesitation at this point on removing the market house – we are simply waiting on guidance from council once they decide what our next step might be. City Staff, as I am sure you are aware, takes their guidance from the City Manager, who gets his guidance from our elected officials.